Couple of Factual Points.

First, so far as I can tell at the moment, the first use of the term “collusion” came on “Meet the Press,” on 18 December 2016.  The person who used the term was John Podesta, a major figure in Hillary Clinton’s shambolic presidential campaign.  Did Podesta not want to use the term “conspiracy”?  Later that week, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada)—who may have been watching “Meet the Press”—also used the term “collusion.”[1]  From there it entered the lexicon of both Democrats and the media.  Then, apparently, it became the term of choice for the President and his supporters when asserting his innocence.  Then it became a term roundly denounced by Democrats and the media as meaningless and an obfuscation.

Second, firing James Comey as “obstruction of justice.”  On 14 February 2017, Trump reportedly told FBI Director James Comey that “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”  After all, “he’s a good guy.”  On 4 December 2018, a sentencing memorandum from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller said Flynn “deserves credit for accepting responsibility in a timely fashion and substantially assisting the government.”  As a result, Flynn should receive little or no jail time.  What’s the diff?

Third, the Mueller Report “did not identify evidence that any U.S. persons knowingly or intentionally coordinated with the IRA’s interference operation.”  More emphatically, “the Special Counsel’s report did not find any evidence that members of the Trump campaign or anyone associated with the campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its hacking operations.”

Fourth, “as the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.”[2]  His actions should be seen in this light.

Watching the “analysis” following Attorney General William Barr’s press conference this morning, I couldn’t help but be reminded of President Obama’s remark that he had to hold on “until the fever breaks.”[3]  Many people seem to have behaved badly in this mess.[4]  What to do?

I’m “concerned” (i.e. worried, frightened, angry) that Republicans will NOT let it go.  We don’t need a “reckoning” or a bloodbath or a counter-vailing “witch hunt.”  All of us—liberals, conservatives, and independents–would be lucky if the perpetrators of the “witch-hunt” calmly reflected on what went wrong.  The New York Times did so admirably after the Jayson Blair[5] and Judith Miller[6] events.

Calm reflection is difficult when the hounds are baying at your heels.  So, hounds, lay off.  Much as “they” need to be on the next thing smoking to Guantanamo, just lay off.  America’s democracy is at stake.

[1] See: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/02/opinion/collusion-meaning-trump-.html

[2] Quotes from https://www.politico.com/story/2019/04/18/transcript-barr-press-conference-1280949

[3] See his equally shrewd statements that “the Cambridge police were stupid”; that ISIS is “just the JV team”; and that “Russia is only a regional power.”

[4] See: “Ace in the Hole” (1951), “Absence of Malice” (1981); “Network” (1986); “Shattered Glass” (2003).  These are among the real origins of the belief in “fake news.”

[5] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jayson_Blair

[6] See: http://nymag.com/nymag/features/9226/

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Memoirs of the Addams Administration 21.

There are drafts, then sketches, and then doodles.  President Donald Trump issued a doodle of a proposed budget for fiscal 2018.  The $4.1 trillion plan calls for $54 billion increase in defense spending; an $800 billion reduction in Medicaid spending spread over ten years, a $192 reduction in food stamps, and a $72 billion cut in disability payments.  The plan also called for substantial tax cuts.  Projecting economic growth of 3 percent, the plan projects a balanced budget in ten years.   Neither Social Security nor Medicare, the real engines pulling the budget train at high speed toward a washed-out bridge, received any attention in the budget plan or from Democratic critics of the plan.[1]

Meanwhile, the president made a densely-packed foreign trip.[2]  His first stop came in Saudi Arabia.  Here he played up the minor chord in his campaign rhetoric on Islam, while muting the major chord.  He said positive things about Islam-in-general (“one of the world’s great faiths”), but called on Middle Eastern countries to turn away from radical-Islamists-in-particular.  He promised another vain effort to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  He also made clear his concern (to put it mildly) about Iran.  Then he sold Saudi Arabia $110 billion in weapons and flew to Israel.  Here he met with both Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas.  Trump told Netanyahu that radical Islam and Iran were the common dangers to Israel and the Sunni Arab states, so maybe they could work something out?

Lost in the commentary was any sense of reality.  The Muslim world is torn by a Sunni-Shi’ite civil war.  President Obama could not afford to choose sides because an attack on nuclearizing Iran would have expanded America’s war in the Middle East at a moment when few Americans had any stomach for big wars.  The Iran agreement slowed down Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons while still leaving them bound by sanctions for other issues.[3]  However, Obama’s refusal to choose allowed the Russians to choose the Shi’ite side.  Now President Trump is taking the logical next step.[4]  As for peace between Palestine and Israel, it isn’t likely to happen.  Israel cannot afford to have a Palestinian state created on the West Bank.  It would just be taken over by Hamas, as happened in Gaza.  The West Bank is a lot closer to Israel’s population centers than is Gaza.  It’s well within flying range of the Hamas rockets.

At home, the appointment of one-time FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the whole Russian mess either made things worse for the president or made them better.[5]  It depends on whether actual “collusion” took place between the Trump campaign and the Russian “organs of state security.”  It is not much remarked that the names of the dominant figures in the Trump campaign, Steve Bannon and Kelly Ann Conway, never appear in rumors of collusion.  So far, it has been minor, peripheral figures—and Michael Flynn.  Even with Flynn, the abundant leaking of information about his communications with Russians never mentions the hacking.  The leaks do suggest that he has other grounds for taking the Fifth.[6]  All of them involve things he did not tell the White House.

[1] “Trump’s budget proposal raises bipartisan concerns,” The Week, 2 June 2017, p. 7.

[2] “Trump’s Middle East reset,” The Week, 2 June 2017, p. 6.

[3] In short, he earned the Nobel Peace Prize he had been awarded early in his first term by Europeans intervening in an American election after the fact.

[4] That’s certainly how it looked to Iran.  “How they see us: Uniting the Middle East against Iran,” The Week, 2 June 2017, p. 17.

[5] “Mueller: Trump’s worst nightmare?” The Week, 2 June 2017, p. 19.

[6] “Flynn: The center of multiple scandals,” The Week, 2 June 2017, p. 19.